Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine
100-1000 9 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 2Y6
I was asked an interesting question today. “What do you think will be the next big cuisine? Japanese has taken off. Vietnamese before that. What’s next?” In thinking about this, I realized that the food trends over the past 10 years have quite a few similarities. First off, they’re ethnic that are becoming mainstream. Secondly, they have an abundance of flavour, yet with approachable ingredients (sushi would be the exception – that was quite the shock to the North American palette, and based on how many people mean “rolls” when they say they like sushi, i’d still say it is), and lastly, they are healthier than many traditional Western and European fare. Might it be Persian? It’s possible. There are an increasing number of kabob houses starting to open – which are generally Afghani, Iraqi, or Persian. The cuisine is quite healthy, has an abundance of flavour, and approachable ingredients. We might have a winner!
Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is a combination restaurant and supermarket, definitely a combination I find odd. While you often find takeout and grocery combined, rarely do you see a nice, well appointed room combined with groceries. However, it’s easy access to some of my favorite spices like sumac, and ingredients like pomegranate paste, so i don’t mind getting my shopping done while i eat.
As previously mentioned, the room is a clean, well appointed, comfortable affair. Much longer than it is wide, it comfortably seats 30-40. It is often completely full on weekends, when it is usually difficult to get a table. Weekdays i find are hit and miss. Sometimes, completely empty. Sometimes, you’re turned away, or encouraged to order take out. If you get a table, they are spartan, yet comfortable. No complaints here.
Persian food has similarities to other Middle Eastern cultures, primarily Afghani, Iraqi, as well as similarities in grilled meat with the Turks. As we order, we decide to try the traditional Iranian drink doogh ($2.50) with the meal - a mix of soda, yogurt, and mint. We made the incorrect assumption that this would function similar to a lassi in Indian cuisine – quench some of the heat, while providing a flavourful and complementary balance to the food. On the contrary, we found it difficult to finish, and while it complimented the khoresht (stew) reasonably well, it killed the flavour of the grilled meat. I would not order it again.
For food, we order a khorest – Ghormeh Sabzi ($13.99) to be exact, and a platter of grilled meat ($31.99) – koobideh, steak and chicken. The platter comes with the typical accompaniments – rice, grilled tomato and onions.
The rice itself is good. A kateh (butter-enhanced rice) decorated with some saffron color and onions, it is both flavourful, and extremely fluffy. The richness goes well with the depth of the grilled meat. I find it’s a good balance with some of the more acidic, sweeter khoreshts, but not as good with the rich, creamier khorests. Bread would probably be a better choice for those.
The Ghormeh Sabzi is a khoresht made of mixed greens (herbs, spinach, and cilantro), and cooked with kidney beans, meat, and citrus, to produce a fragrant, tangy, yet slightly sweet stew. It’s good, but a touch oily, and not quite enough chunks of lamb for my liking. Good flavour though.
The grilled platter has many similarities to the kinds of kebabs served in most other Middle Eastern cultures – and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that! A couple of spiced ground meat (koobideh) kebabs, generally my favorite, are excellent. Flavourful, well spiced, and nicely caramelized on the exterior. The barg (beef in this case) is good, but really just chunks of seasoned meat on a skewer. The chicken is good – flavourful, tender, and not overcooked. Easy to share, and tasty to boot, this dish is an easy introduction for people learning to appreciate other flavours.
Overall, the food at Atlas Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is flavourful, and quite consistent. And just as importantly, the value seems to be there. Khoreshts are small servings, but reasonably good deals, priced similar to an Indian curry. The grill is where some find it a bit pricey – $32 for a platter for two isn’t cheap, but as long as you arent a meat glutton, then it will serve 2 people comfortably. We shared the khoresht and the platter among three people, and left a little bit of food behind. Not bad for $50.
Thinking on it some more, I feel predicting the next “big cuisine” is difficult. Typically, I find the trends of the West Coast generally filter their way across slowly, which means we can usually predict Calgary’s next restaurant shift based on what is popular there a year ago. And Persian food, while somewhat popular, is a long way from sharing the same success that other cuisines have had on the coast. Calgary seems to have a bigger Middle Eastern population, so im not sure if it’ll catch on or not. Which is too bad, as the food is approachable, flavourful, and reasonably priced. Something that should easily succeed here.